The institution preparing the next generation to drive the Turkish fashion industry.
Just moments away from the designer stores that line up after one another in the exclusive Istanbul suburb of Nişantaşı stands the Istanbul Moda Academy (IMA). Befitting its luxury surroundings, the institution is housed in a grand – almost stately – building, once home to a government department.
Inside, among the hustle and bustle of students taking a break from class, are all the usual sights of a fashion school – sewing room, classroom, mannequins fitted with students’ grand designs … The current driving force behind the IMA is Seda Lafçı, director of the academy, and major champion of the Turkish fashion industry. Dressed head to toe in black, the well-esteemed Lafçı, who joined the academy in 2009 – two years after it was founded – says the academy was established by the Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporters’ Association (ITKIB) to help further build a strong and talented fashion industry in Turkey.
“There are universities in Turkey, but most of them run fashion and design programmes under [the] fine art faculty,” says Lafçı. “Here, we listen to the industry, have strong ties with the industry, and understand the needs of the industry. So we work together to develop the content.”
Still, she insists IMA isn’t in competition with universities: “We try to work together and develop joint projects with them.”
Like many other education institutions worldwide, the IMA leverages its strong ties with the retail and design industry, enabling the students to learn by working on real projects.
“We have projects with the brand where their management team or design teams come to us or we go there, and they manage the project,” says Lafçı. “Students get the chance to meet with the team from brands and, by the end of the project, they get real critiques,” she says.
There is also the opportunity for students to develop strong relationships with those working in the fashion industry: “They have the possibility to develop collections with fashion designers or for a retail brand,” says Lafçı. “They don’t just get to understand the design part but the aim is to understand the customers, pricing, marketing and branding.” The IMA’s thinking is to not only encourage students to develop their design skills, but also equally learn important business skills.
One of the most significant podiums that can help students gain huge exposure is Istanbul Fashion Week.
“For this, we try to create platforms for our students to get involved in, especially those on the MA programme,” explains Lafçı. “They will produce a fashion collection and judges from the industry, from designers to fashion media, will select the best designers to show there.”
As part of Istanbul Fashion Week, multi-brand showrooms and buyers from around the globe are invited to check out the latest crop of Turkish fashion designers, while designers and brands are invited to present their collections at fashion exhibition The Core.
Lafçı says Istanbul Fashion Week’s dates were brought forward last year to help the event become more of a fixture in buyers’ schedules: “If it’s earlier, brands have more of a chance [to win new clients]. If it’s right after all of the others, then there’s no budget left.”
This year, it ran on 12-17 January – significantly earlier than its previous editions, which fell after Paris Fashion Week in March. Designers and brands also have the opportunity to present their collections at fashion exhibition The Core.
The plan is to help put Turkish fashion designers on a global stage, and move away from the notion that Turkey is simply a haven for manufacturing rather than design. As part of this strategy to show the world that they have a strong design base, designers are encouraged and supported – by receiving subsidies arranged through the Istanbul Textile and Raw Materials Exporters Association (ITHIB) from the Ministry of Economy to help them go to fashion fairs overseas.
It is this determination that will help Turkish designers become the future talent of the country. And that will certainly happen if Lafçı has anything to do with it.